Monday, February 21, 2005


Cairo, Sunday February 20th

I’m sitting in an Ahawa (nargila café) with my laptop. It’s a dusty
hot morning. Rami went to settle a dispute between the guy who took us
to the guy who took us to the guy who took us to the landlord and the
guy who took us to the guy who took us to the landlord. We made the
mistake of giving them a big bill and telling them to split it – now
one of them is banging on our door every day complaining that he didn’t
get enough.

Yesterday I had my first meeting with Saiid!

I spent all day practicing in the park in order to get ready. A group
of kids gathered around me to listen and I ended up speaking to them
for quite a while. It was the first time I was on my own speaking
Arabic with no English speakers around to help me. It was amazing - we
actually talked about many things and understood each other! But it
was exhausting.

We got to the Artistek Studios and waited for Saiid. He has a building
with an office, a recording studio and a practice space. The place is
full of dumbeks! He has a bunch of guys that work for him and just
hang out in the studio and answer the phone and make tea and stuff.
Rami positioned himself with the video camera so that he could film the
meeting between me and Saiiid.

Finally he came. He's probably in his mid fifties. He's very handsome.
He's pretty thin and he chain smokes. He goes to sleep every day after
the morning prayer (6 am). All night he sits in his studio and hangs
out , rehearses, records, smokes,ect.

He was very excited to see us. We spent the first few hors listening
to the stuff he’s been working on and he listened to the stuff I’ve
been working on. He showed us this TV program where they interviewed
him about the tabla (dumbek) and he played with a big ensemble. The
ensemble has violins, ouds, singers, all kinds of percussion ect, but
everything centers around him on the dumbek. He stands in the middle
of everyone with the dumbek on his knee and a flashing smile and
everyone else is there to accompany him. The funniest thing is that
all the words of the singers are about the dumbek, for example, “where
is the Dum? Here is the Dum!” and stuff like that. He definitely has
“star” quality. Even yesterday, he lit up whenever Rami turned on the
video camera.

At one point we listened to his version of “Osama” (the song that I
play that I learned from Osama that was actually written by Said) and
then my version of the same song from my new cd. He didn’t seem to
mind that I ripped off his tune, especially after I told him that we
gave him credit for the composition. Every time he showed me a new
composition I jokingly said, “Great, now there’s another song for me to

It’s nice to be able to joke in Arabic. My first attempt was a flop.
I met a guy named “Arrfa” and arrfa also means “to know” so I said
“Delwati ana arrfa arrfa – cha cha cha” (Now I know Arrfa – ha ha ha”)
and was met with a blank stare.

Oh – back to Saiid. So after shooting the shit for a few hours (and in
hailing unbelievable amounts of second hand smoke) I asked him when
will we start practicing. He said tomorrow. But I knew that if I
egged him on he would play so I asked him to tune my drum and we ended
up jamming! It was really fun. He showed me another piece called
“Alexandria” (that’s where he’s from). We really hit it off playing
wise. I can mimic him well and he has some new techniques that are
really cool. He said “I wasn’t in the mood to play but you draw it out
of me”

Oh and about the concert. He’s still saying “ein shalla”. Apparently
he had a falling out with the Cairo Opera House which is the most
prestigious venue in Egypt (they haven’t paid him for his concert
there). He’ like to play there again, but his pride prevents him from
calling there. But he really wants to have a concert. He was
especially excited when I told him about my troupe of girl drummers
arriving next week (he also wanted to know what they looked like and if
they were married). He’s also excited about the kemenche. I’ll bring
it tonight when I go there.

Saiid did call Channel One while we were there and told them about me
and told them to come tomorrow to the first rehearsal. So I believe
there will be a concert (Eih Sh’alla) but its not clear when or where.

He basically said that we should come to his studio every evening and
hang out there until the morning with him. That will be interesting,
especially since Rami is experiencing some kind of bizarre reverse jet
lag – he’s up putzing around humming songs every morning at 9 am! This
is the same Rami who usually can’t form a coherent sentence before
2:30pm. But I figure that after a few nights with Saiid, Rami will
adjust to the night schedule, which is actually more like New York

Well that’s it for now – Rami and I decided that having shisha in the
morning before breakfast is kind of like having a glass of apple juice.

Oh – did I mention that we live in a luxury apartment in the center of
town? I LOVE our apartment. And our neighborhood. It takes about 25
minutes to drive to Saiid – not bad. And we can walk to all the
downtown hot spots. There are tons of great cafes and restaurants here
and there’s a beautiful park where I can practice right in front of our
house! Its just perfect. I’m planning a big party for our last week.
You’re all invited!

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